Vaudeville to American Suffragette

 

Trixie Friganza was born on November 29, 1870 and given the name Delia O’Callaghan.

She began working at a young age (12 or 13 years old) in order to help support her family, securing a cash girl position at Pogue’s store, and earning $3.00 a week. When she was sixteen she was promoted to the handkerchief counter at Pogue’s store and her salary went up to around $4.50–$5.00 a week. It was her boyfriend at the time, who encouraged her not to waste her talents as a singer and actress and to venture onto the stage where she could double or triple her current salary. She took her mother’s maiden name Friganza and the nickname Trixie stuck.

Her mother was inconsolable and devastated at her daughter’s decision to take to the stage. She notified Cleveland authorities who brought Trixie before a Cleveland judge to justify her decision to work in theater. She presented such a compelling and rational case for this career move (she had to prove to the judge that she was neither “silly” nor “stage-struck”, that this was a business move) that the judge granted her clemency and telegraphed her mother saying that Trixie was doing the right thing. She remained on stage in some form or another for the next fifty years.

Trixie Friganza was civic minded and socially attuned. She was not progressive by modern standards, but for a woman at the turn of the twentieth century to align herself with women’s suffrage and to promote a positive female body image was pretty radical. On October 28, 1908, Trixie attended a women’s suffrage rally at New York City Hall where she delivered a speech for women’s rights.

Trixie at Suffragette movement in New York, 1908

She transitioned to film in the early 1920s mostly playing small characters that were quirky and comedic and retired from the stage in 1940 due to health concerns. She spent her last years teaching drama to young women in a convent school and when she died she left everything to the convent. She became a highly sought after comic actress after the success of The Chaperons.

Trixie Friganza in The Chaperons

Trixie toured with many theatre companies in the coming years working her way from roles in the chorus to more prominently featured roles with speaking parts. Part of her success can be attributed to her constant willingness to step in and take over roles when others fell ill or could not appear. These instances provided her an opportunity to demonstrate her ability and ingenuity. She impressed agents, audiences and other actors alike with her stellar singing voice and ability to command audiences with her humorous interpretation of characters.

Trixie Friganza with Buster Keaton in Free and Easy – Easy Go, 1930 Credit: AF archive/Alamy

You can watch a funny video of Trixie here:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9H-7fKb9uQY

 

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Waves of Defiance in Boston

Boston Women's March (c) Frank Siteman 2017
Boston Women’s March (c) Frank Siteman 2017

On Saturday, January 21, 2017 about 175,000 people came to Boston to protest against newly elected President Trump. It was an outpouring of energy and patriotism expressing the crowd’s concerns about protecting all rights for women, immigrants, the LGB community and even democracy itself.

Photographer Frank Siteman was there documenting this “sea of love” capturing the variety of signs and faces. I’ve included just a few of his images here. You can see more by going to this link:

http://www.franksiteman.com/2017bostonmarch

Boston Women's March (c) Frank Siteman 2017
Boston Women’s March (c) Frank Siteman 2017
Boston Women's March (c) Frank Siteman 2017
Boston Women’s March (c) Frank Siteman 2017
Boston Women's March (c) Frank Siteman 2017
Boston Women’s March (c) Frank Siteman 2017
Boston Women's March (c) Frank Siteman 2017
Boston Women’s March (c) Frank Siteman 2017
Boston Women's March (c) Frank Siteman 2017
Boston Women’s March (c) Frank Siteman 2017
Boston Women's March (c) Frank Siteman 2017
Boston Women’s March (c) Frank Siteman 2017
Boston Women's March (c) Frank Siteman 2017
Boston Women’s March (c) Frank Siteman 2017
Boston Women's March (c) Frank Siteman 2017
Boston Women’s March (c) Frank Siteman 2017

siteman-truth-sign-_mg_3916

Boston Women's March (c) Frank Siteman 2017
Boston Women’s March (c) Frank Siteman 2017
Boston Women's March (c) Frank Siteman 2017
Boston Women’s March (c) Frank Siteman 2017

Alexander the Great Quest for Immortality

Alexander the Great fighting Darius III - mosaic from Pompeii Credit: Museo Archeologico Nazionale
Alexander the Great fighting Darius III – mosaic from Pompeii Credit: Museo Archeologico Nazionale

Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) is known as the conqueror of much of the ancient world. By the time of his early death at the age of 32, he had won territories from Egypt to India and made a lasting name for himself as a brilliant military commander and strategist. Accounts of his life and exploits are known from an early period, in various cultures and in a number of different languages.

Through the years, so many stories have been told and retold about Alexander the Great that he has become more like a character from Greek mythology than a real human being.

Medieval accounts of Alexander’s adventures and exploits included illustrations with fearsome beasts as seen in several European examples shown below.

Miniature of Alexander the Great in battle with dragons, Royal 20 B. xx, f. 49v. The British Library
Miniature of Alexander the Great in battle with dragons, Royal 20 B. xx, f. 49v. The British Library

 

Detail of a miniature of Alexander the Great, in a cage, being carried aloft by griffins, Royal 20 B. xx, f. 76v. The British Library
Detail of a miniature of Alexander the Great, in a cage, being carried aloft by griffins, Royal 20 B. xx, f. 76v.
The British Library

As a great general, Alexander was a fitting role model for young princes and kings, particularly during the troubled period of the Hundred Years War, when a ruler’s military prowess was so important.  The illustration above is from a French manuscript called The True History of the Good King Alexander. Whoever its original owner might have been, by the mid-sixteenth century it had indeed found a royal home: the added inscription ‘HR’ (Henricus Rex) at the beginning of the book indicates that the volume eventually found its way into the library of Henry VIII.

Another miniature of Alexander exploring the ocean in a glass barrel accompanied by a cat and a cock. His unfaithful wife tries to murder him by cutting the cord connecting him to the ship. Also from The True History of the Good King Alexander c. 1420
Another miniature from The True History of the Good King Alexander ca. 1420 shows Alexander  exploring the ocean in a glass barrel accompanied by a cat and a cock. His unfaithful wife tries to murder him by cutting the cord connecting him to the ship. It’s the cat that saves the day.

 

Imagery from Song of Alexander by Lamprecht von Pfaffen Photo credit: Lebrecht
Imagery from Song of Alexander by Lamprecht von Pfaffen Photo credit: Lebrecht

In a German epic poem entitled Song of Alexander by Lamprecht von Pfaffen there is another fabulous account of the life of Alexander the Great. This 12th century illustration shows Alexander doing battle with six-handed human-like creatures and pigs with terrible fangs.  The monsters look a lot like the beasts in Maurice Sendak’s children’s book Where the Wild Things Are as seen below:

Drawing from Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (c) Harper & Row Publishers
Drawing from Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (c) Harper & Row Publishers

 

Another illustration from Song of Alexander showing Alexander doing battle with dragons and other fantastical beasts. Credit: Lebrecht
Another illustration from Song of Alexander showing Alexander doing battle with dragons and other fantastical beasts. Credit: Lebrecht

Alexander the Great is quoted as saying, “I would rather live a short life of glory than a long one of obscurity.” That’s exactly what he got. 2,300 years later we remember him as a legendary, mythic figure. He fulfilled his quest for immortality.

 

 

 

A Medieval Feminist

Christine de Pizan (1364-1430), often called the first professional female author, wrote to support herself and her family. She is one of the few women who had prominence as a secular writer during a time when women were neither educated nor independent.

Christine de Pisan Teaching Her Son – Unknown illuminated manuscript from British Library, London
Christine de Pisan Teaching Her Son – Unknown illuminated manuscript from British Library, London

Christine was born in Venice in 1364. When she was five, her family moved to France so that her father, a physician and astrologer, could work as a councilor to King Charles V.

In Paris Christine’s mother wanted her to learn domestic skills, but her father believed that it would benefit her to learn how to read and write. In the milieu of a court that had an immense library, she learned Italian, French, and some Latin.

When she was 15 years old, she married Étienne du Castel, a nobleman and courtier who became the king’s secretary. But that same year Charles V died and her father lost his position, and with it the high income. Three years later her husband died, leaving her with the burden of three small children. Her widowed mother, also dependent on her, cared for her children while Christine threw herself into literature, philosophy, and anything she could learn.

Instead of remarrying, she decided to enlarge upon her studies. Fortunately she was allowed access to the libraries of the courts. In 1394 she began to write and sell her poems and receive commissions by patrons of the court.

As Christine continued to write poetry and prose, a feminist voice emerged. In The Book of the City of Ladies she created a utopian world where women had power and control and proved that many of the negative myths regarding the female sex were false.

Illuminated page from The Book of the City of Women. Paris about 1405. Photo credit: Manuscript Department/Library of Congress
Illuminated page from The Book of the City of Women. Paris about 1405. Photo credit: Manuscript Department/Library of Congress

In this illustration from The Book of the City of Women, aided by Reason, Uprightness, and Justice, she lays the foundation of a City exclusively for women who have served the cause of women (female warriors, politicians, good wives, lovers, and inventors, among others). The imagined City will be crowned by the glory of the Virgin and sainted women.

Its sequel, The Treasure of the City of Ladies, was different, written specifically for upper-class women and members of the court, to give them advice on managing their homes during their husbands’ absences. In this book she cautioned against dishonest governors and protecting one’s rights as a landowner so that unscrupulous agents would not take advantage of a woman’s status.

Christine was knowledgeable in farming and spoke to the role of women as housekeepers in a time when their domain included fields, crops, laborers, and maids.

“The good housekeeper must keep her eyes wide open.” Christine was well acquainted with the chores involved in livestock maintenance, as well as agriculture. Every detail of the work involved in a responsible woman’s life was spelled out. She stressed that the mistress of a domestic enterprise should constantly be watchful.

Illustrations from The Treasure of the City of Ladies Credit: Special Collections, Boston Public Library
Illustrations from The Treasure of the City of Ladies Credit: Special Collections, Boston Public Library

The left side of this illustration shows Christine reclining on a canopied bed trying to rest after finishing The Book of the City of Ladies. The three Virtues awakening Christine giving her such a mighty tug that she pulls her into an upright position, commanding: Have you already put away the tool of your intelligence and consigned it to silence? Take your pen and write.

 The right side of this miniature portrays all of the women addressed in the text. The middle class women are seated on a bench in the foreground, with their backs to the viewer.  Three of these women wear hoods with long tails hanging down their backs.  These hoods indicate their lower status. There are several women on the bench with white horned headdresses identical to the one our author wears, spelling out their slightly higher status as servants of the court, or members of the affluent middle class.

Christine de Pizan lecturing men (I) and in her study) Both illustrations accompany the Cent Ballades, in the Queen’s Manuscript of 1411-12, now in the British Library.
Christine de Pizan lecturing men (I) and in her study) Both illustrations accompany the Cent Ballades, in the Queen’s Manuscript of 1411-12, now in the British Library.

The Book of the Queen contains the largest extant collection of Christine’s writing, and was written and decorated under her supervision, commissioned for Isabeau of Bavaria, the queen consort to Charles VI of France.

Christine’s life was dramatically altered by the Hundred Years War clash between France and England. Sometime after France lost the Battle of Agincourt she entered a convent in Poissy, France. In 1429 she penned a work to praise Joan of Arc. This proved to be her final contribution to literature. Christine died around 1430.

 

 

 

 

Contemporary Western Art

On a recent visit to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming I found myself drawn to their contemporary art selection. Here are four of my favorites:

Tonto’s Dream, 2013 by David Bradley. Credit: Buffalo Bill Center of the West
Tonto’s Dream, 2013 by David Bradley. Credit: Whitney Western Art Museum/Buffalo Bill Center of the West

Artist David Bradley is a Minnesota Chippewa Indian whose work often comments on the commercialization of Native cultures in a humorous way. Here, he portrays Tonto, the Indian sidekick of the Lone Ranger, a popular TV character from the 1950s. Western clichés and Indian stereotypes fill the canvas: Buffalo Gals, ghost riders, and Tonto himself. Traditional Native American culture survives in a few scattered beads, pottery shards, and petroglyphs, while the widespread symbol of today’s American Indian the casino, is prominently represented by signs and a deck of cards.

The painting is based on a famous 1897 work by the influential French artist Henri Rousseau called “The Sleeping Gypsy” (shown below).  For Bradley, the lion is transformed into this mountain lion. In the foreground, that sleeping gypsy is now a sleeping Tonto. If you look on the left-hand side, you’ll see the Lone Ranger peeking out from a rock.

The Sleeping Gypsy, 1897 by Henri Rousseau. Credit: Museum of Modern Art
The Sleeping Gypsy, 1897 by Henri Rousseau. Credit: Museum of Modern Art

By referencing iconic works of European art like “The Sleeping Gypsy,” Bradley asserts his right to tap into artistic traditions beyond his roots and adopts it for his own.

The Menagerie, 2007-2011 by Michael Scott Credit: Whitney Western Art Museum/ Buffalo Bill Center of the West
The Menagerie, 2007-2011 by Michael Scott Credit: Whitney Western Art Museum/Buffalo Bill Center of the West

Michael Scott is a contemporary artist who currently lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Scott finds inspiration for his subjects and style in history, art history, and the western landscape and people near his home. In “The Menagerie” Scott imagines Buffalo Bill as the caretaker for an exotic bird menagerie. Symbolism for each bird references the personality of Buffalo Bill, who stands as the “ring leader” of the birds in the painting. Note the hummingbird at Buffalo Bill’s left ear, which was a symbol used by 17th century European artists to signify the fleeting nature of life. The peacock is associated with vanity and therefore reflects one quality of Buffalo Bill. The composition and subject reference a major American 18th century painting by Charles Wilson Peale that depicted a self-portrait of the artist in his museum (shown below).

The Artist in His Museum 1822 by Charles Wilson Peale Credit: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
The Artist in His Museum 1822 by Charles Wilson Peale
Credit: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
A Contemporary Sioux Indian, 1978 by James Bama Credit: Whitney Western Art Museum/Buffalo Bill Center of the West
A Contemporary Sioux Indian, 1978 by James Bama Credit: Whitney Western Art Museum/Buffalo Bill Center of the West

James Bama left a successful illustration career and his New York home for the solitude of the Absaroka Mountains of Wyoming and life as a Realist painter. Often overlooked in the scope of American art, Bama’s paintings hold their own when compared to other outstanding American Realists.

Bama has portrayed a contemporary Indian who maintains a relationship with the past but has to find his place in the white man’s world. The message on the wall behind the subject echoes the artist’s theme of the nonacceptance of Indians in mainstream American society.

The Wild Rose by Buckeye Blake Credit: Buffalo Bill Center of the West
The Wild Rose by Buckeye Blake Credit: Buffalo Bill Center for Western History

Buckeye Blake’s painting, The Wild Rose, ia based on world-champion bronc rider Fannie Sperry Steele and her trick horse Sultan. Steele is a rodeo legend from Montana who was the first woman inducted into the Rodeo Hall of Fame. “I love the West as well as its history,” Blake says. “It’s a delicate balance in a hard land, an epic nuance in an incredible orchestration of light, shadow, color, and space—to begin to capture such a symphony is both sacred and humbling.”

Fannie at the Winnipeg Stampede, 1913
Fannie at the Winnipeg Stampede, 1913

 

 

 

 

 

Joshua Hammer’s Story of The Bad Ass Librarians of Timbuktu

Abdel-Kader-Haidara Photo by Getty Images
Abdel-Kader-Haidara Photo by Getty Images

Abdel Kader Haidara was a son of a scholar who grew up in an intellectual environment in Timbuktu. He was not a wealthy person. After his father’s death in the early 1980s he inherited the family’s centuries-old manuscript collection.

In the 1980s Abdel Kader Haidara, at the request of the Ahmed Baba Institute, journeyed across the Sahara Desert and along the Niger River, tracking down and salvaging tens of thousands of ancient Islamic and secular manuscripts that had fallen into obscurity. He was traveling on camels across the Sahara and on riverboats, going to small villages, to find and purchased these manuscripts. They represented a whole strain of Islam that was moderate; that celebrated culture, diversity, secular ideas, poetry, love, and human beauty.

Restored illustrated Koran from Mali
A detailed view on the illumination of a Koran bought in Fes in 1223.  (Photo by Xavier ROSSI/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.)
12th century Koran from Abdel Kader Haidara's private collection Getty Images

12th century Koran from Abdel Kader Haidara’s private collection Getty Images

Gold illuminated Koran Photo by Getty Images
Gold illuminated Koran Photo by Getty Images
Detail of an ancient Arab manuscript from Timbuktu ca. 1223 owned by the Library of the Ahmed Baba Institute of Islamic advanced studies and research.
Detail of an ancient Arab manuscript from Timbuktu ca. 1223 owned by the Library of the Ahmed Baba Institute of Islamic advanced studies and research.

Stephanie Diakité (referred to as Emily Brady in The Bad Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer) was an unlikely ally for Timbuktu’s manuscripts. She grew up in Seattle, a deeply intelligent and highly educated woman with short blond hair. On a trip to Timbuktu 20 years ago, she met Haidara and his documents and found a calling: The texts, she says, “do something for me nothing else ever has.” Diakité apprenticed with master bookbinders and has spent her life shuttling back and forth between the United States and Africa, working on conservation projects. When Haidara realized he had to spirit the documents out of Timbuktu, Diakité was the first person he contacted. The two friends spent days in Bamako cafés, sipping tea and devising plans.

Stephanie Diakite, Abdel Kadel Haidara and an elder from one of Mali 's manuscript holding families Photo attributed to Stephanie Diakite
Stephanie Diakite, Abdel Kadel Haidara and an elder from one of Mali ‘s manuscript holding families Photo attributed to Stephanie Diakite

While the Islamists set about imposing their rules in Timbuktu, Haidara and the other librarians undertook one of the greatest cultural evacuations in history: The manuscript collections were secretly packed into metal trunks, loaded onto mule carts, and hidden in private houses and then in the Malian capital, Bamako. In January 2013, 15 jihadis made a bonfire of 4,000 manuscripts at the Ahmed Baba Institute. But by that time many of the jewels of the collection were already in safekeeping.

Almost all of the manuscripts survived the Islamist occupation. About 377,000 of them have been collected under one roof in Bamako, Mali’s capital, where a Minnesota-based foundation run by a Benedictine monk and ancient manuscript expert, Columba Stewart is digitizing them and helping to restore those that are disintegrating. He is very much involved in this, traveling to Bamako on a regular basis.

As for Abdel Kader Haidara, he is hoping that he’ll be able to return these manuscripts to Timbuktu some day, but he’s waiting. Timbuktu is now a ghost town — tourists aren’t going there, flights aren’t going there. It’s very sad. The glory days of Timbuktu may never be recaptured, given the strength of the Islamists — the terrorists in that area, in that part of the world.

 

 

The Massachusetts Sacrifice

In 1861 in answer to President Lincoln’s call, Boston Irishman Thomas Cass began recruiting Irish immigrants to form the Massachusetts 9th regiment.  The volunteers came largely from Boston and the nearby towns of Salem, Milford, Marlboro and Stoughton. A total of 1,727 men enlisted. They came to be called the “Fighting Ninth” serving for three years in campaigns in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania and in forty two engagements.

Massachusetts Union Soldiers Credit: Library of Congress
Massachusetts Union Soldiers Credit: Library of Congress

The Irish volunteers encamped on Long Island in Boston Harbor through May, and on June 11, 1861 the Regiment was mustered into service. On 30 June 1861, the unit arrived in the Washington, D.C. vicinity and was welcomed by President Lincoln. They remained in the vicinity of Arlington, Virginia performing picket duty and built a fort on the Potomac River called Fort Cass after their commanding officer.

Irish American 9th regiment with their chaplain celebrating mass. Credit: Library of Congress
Irish American 9th regiment with their chaplain celebrating mass. Credit: Library of Congress

Colonel Cass fell in the Battle of Malvern Hill near the city of Richmond. The unit’s casualties were very heavy; along with losing their two top commanders, roughly half the regiment was put out of action, totaling 166 men. Colonel Cass died in Boston Massachusetts on 12 July 1862 and was buried with full military honors at Mt Auburn cemetery. A statue of Colonel Cass shown below stands on the south side of the Boston Public Garden.

Statue by Richard Edwin Brooks. Photo by Pmcyclist
Statue by Richard Edwin Brooks. Photo by Pmcyclist

The Ninth took its place in the newly formed Army of Virginia under the command of General John Pope participating in the 2nd Battle of Bull Run, Antietam Creek, the Battle of Fredericksburg and the Battle of Chancellorsville.

Union soldiers flying Irish Brigade Flag – Civil War print by Don Trolani
Union soldiers flying Irish Brigade Flag – Civil War print by Don Trolani

It was at the Battle of Gettysburg that the 9th was assigned to hold the strategically important position of Big Round Top until additional Union reinforcement arrived. With the help of substantial stone breastworks, the regiment successfully withstood several assaults by the Confederate Army, taking casualties of 26 killed, wounded, or missing.

Gettysburg monument to the 9th Massachusetts Volunteers who brought 474 men to the field.
Gettysburg monument to the 9th Massachusetts Volunteers who brought 474 men to the field.

The 9th also participated in the Battle of the Wilderness suffering casualties of 138 men. After three years of service the 9th returned to Boston. Following a welcoming parade and banquet at Faneuil Hall, the men mustered out in a ceremony on Boston Common in 1864 and the regiment was disbanded.